CRAZY LIKE (OR AS) A FOX – “…seemingly foolish but in fact extremely cunning.” From “Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1.
In the aftermath of Michigan’s disappointing double overtime loss to arch rival Ohio State, Jim Harbaugh went off.
Harbaugh’s post game press conference was a master class is deflecting attention from his team’s failure secure a bid to the Big Ten Championship game and capture a place in the college football playoffs.
“I am bitterly disappointed with the officiating today,” said Harbaugh to a packed room of media.
The story out of Columbus was all about Harbaugh’s sideline theatrics and condemnation of the officials who penalized Michigan 7 times for a total of 59 yards while the Ohio State was rung up twice for a total of 6 yards.
Lost in the mix was quarterback Wilton Speight’s three turnovers which included a pick 6 to get the Buckeyes on the scoreboard after being smothered by the Michigan defense.
Nobody asked about Jourdan Lewis’ dangerous return as regulation time expired when he inexplicably cut back into a Buckeye defender instead of streaking for the sideline and possible game winning touchdown.
Harbaugh dismissed a question about what he didn’t go for two points and a win in the first overtime period.
His quarterback clearly wanted to go for the win before Harbaugh quashed the idea.
Harbaugh’s quick dismissal is puzzling– just a few weeks ago he was touting Speight as a possible Heisman candidate and gushed about he consulted with his quarterback on play calling.
Harbaugh hates hypothetical questions from the media so we’ll stick to the facts– with the game and the season on the line, Harbaugh took the ball out of Speight’s hands and kicked the extra point to extend the game ignoring conventional wisdom that visiting teams should go for the win.
With such a short field, Speight’s murky injury would not have limited Harbaugh’s play selection. Even if Harbaugh was concerned about Speight, he had other options. Michigan had been using Jabrill Peppers in a wildcat formation with varying degrees of success all season. Peppers had been hinting of special plays being held in reserve for just such an occasion. Harbaugh could have put Peppers at wideout as a distraction during the play. Tight end Jake Butt, an especially dangerous short yardage weapon, was also available.
Speight was diplomatic in his comments about his desire to go for the two point conversion.
When Harbaugh was a player he would have fumed at such a decision.
Instead rolling the dice with his offense, Harbaugh put his defense back on the field in overtime after it had been on the field for the practically the entire 4th quarter (11:07).
Nobody is asking why Michigan seems to struggle on the road under Harbaugh, continuing a trend that preceded his tenure.
Michigan is 6-3 on the road during the regular season under Harbaugh. Which appears to be a decent performance except that two of those wins from last season included near disasters against Indiana (6-7) 48-41 in double overtime and Minnesota (6-7) 29-26 with Gophers falling short on the last play of the game.
This season Michigan fell short of the college football playoffs not because of the loss to Ohio State but because it failed to beat a pedestrian Iowa team (8-4) a few weeks before– an Iowa team that lost earlier in the season to North Dakota State, 23-21.
Whine about the referees if you want but Michigan had chances to beat Ohio State during both regulation and overtime.
Harbaugh will need to coach better especially on the road for Michigan to compete for a national championship.
The results so far are discouraging.
Bad referees are occasionally part of the game. It easy to coach when you’re beating opponents 63-3, 59-3 or 78-0. A great coach distinguishes himself when the odds are stacked against him.
Michigan deserved better this season.
And it starts and ends with Coach Harbaugh– not the referees.